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How to Quarantine Aquarium Plants (or Snails)

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By Lindsey Stanton


It’s so much fun to get new plants, isn’t it? Whether you got them in the mail or even from a river or pond, there’s something you really need to do before you put them in the tank.

Unless the plant was grown using the tissue-culture method or in an environment without any fish, there will probably be a good number of “hitchhikers.” Some you might be able to see, but others you cannot.

Most of them are harmless to your fish, and some are even beneficial to your aquarium. But the problem is that they could also be carrying disease-causing organisms. These can lead to an outbreak of illness with your fish.

Does this mean you can never put live plants in your aquarium? Absolutely not, because there’s a workaround, and it’s called Quarantine. It might sound scary, but it’s something that is done to fish and can also be done to plants.

The good news? It’s usually much easier than quarantining fish.

aquarium plant divider


2 Methods of Plant Quarantine:

I think you’ll agree with me that plants for goldfish tanks, or really any aquarium, look fantastic. They also have a lot of benefits to the environment of your aquarium. It’s common for aquarists to dip their plants in various toxic chemicals in an effort to remove the hitchhikers.

Not only can this be stressful to the plants, but it’s often ineffective. My methods of plant quarantine are 100% environmentally friendly. There are two ways I recommend you choose what works best for your needs.

1. Critter Clean-off: MinnFinn Soak

minnfinn soak

The first is the total sterilization method, which I refer to as the “critter clean-off.” If you’re the type who does not want any snails potentially “infesting” your tank, this one is for you.

I personally really like snails, but sometimes I’m in a situation where I just want the plant and don’t want to bother with a long process. Sometimes, I just don’t want them to end up in the tank I’m putting them in, and picking them off is just about impossible when they’re really tiny (believe me, I know what I’m talking about here because I tried!).

Enter… MinnFinn! It’s a totally biodegradable and natural treatment that will have your plants fish-safe and snail-free in a jiffy. I use the one-hour bath at regular strength in a 5-gallon bucket (usually filled up halfway).

Don’t forget to set a timer! When you come back, you can observe all those little dark dots on the bottom of the bucket. Look closer, and you’ll see they’re all the dead snails.

MinnFinn also targets the live, free-swimming, and egg stages of all common fish parasites.  So you can have peace of mind knowing you’re not going to end up with a scary plague outbreak.

  • Note: while MinnFinn has never harmed the plants I have done the bath on (at regular concentration levels) I have not tried using MinnFinn on every aquatic plant.  Please use this treatment at your own discretion.  Or if you’re like me and you’re not sure if the plant is too delicate, you might consider doing a test bath on only one part of the plant to see how it reacts.

2. Isolation Method

snail on plant in goldfish tank
Image credit: Nadeene, Shutterstock

Here’s a secret: not everybody is aware that many of the hitchhikers in live plants can actually be a blessing in disguise. Those little “pest snails” can actually be used to form part of your front-line cleanup crew if you utilize them properly.

They make an excellent food source for fish that can self-replenish. By breaking down fish waste and scrubbing off algae, they help put all those excess nutrients to use and get them into a more readily available form for probiotic bacteria to consume.

I’m not talking about the nitrifying bacteria that live in your filter! Plants can also bring in even tinier life forms that help broaden your tank’s biodiversity (which helps strengthen your aquarium’s ecosystem).

Not all of these life forms are beneficial, and you don’t want to bring disease into your tank. Snails can also carry diseases that can pass to your fish, as they can be an intermediate host.

How do you separate the good bugs from the bad ones when you can’t even see them, and how do you make sure your snails don’t spread something nasty to your tank?

It’s actually easier than you think: isolation. Parasites have a life cycle that requires a host.  Unless they have a host within a certain amount of time, they will die. By keeping your plants and snails separate from your fish for a minimum of 28 days (in an empty tank or jar of water), you outrun their life cycle.

Planted tropical fresh water aquarium low light_nektofadeev_shutterstock
Image Credit: nektofadeev, Shutterstock

So by the time you introduce them into your aquarium, all that’s left are the harmless creatures that have survived on the available plant matter. If you want to keep the snails alive, you can feed them lightly during this isolation period.

I also recommend keeping live plants in with the snails if at all possible. Especially if you are keeping them in something unfiltered, like a jar. The plants will help to purify and oxygenate the water.

This method can be used for the inhabitants you introduce to your tank, be they snails, shrimp, or plants.

  • Note: The isolation method of quarantine won’t work for fish though, as they are a host.  You will need to use MinnFinn on your fish to get rid of the parasites.

seashell dividers


Wrapping It All Up

Quarantining your plants and snails might seem like a daunting task, but there are easy and natural ways to make sure you keep your tank healthy and safe while still benefiting from what they have to offer.

Now you can get plants from anywhere you want and not have to worry about anything bad happening. Did you find these tips useful?

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Featured Image Credit: enadan, Shutterstock

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